Railways and Ports

There are a few positive advances that can be noted regarding the growth of railways as the main carriers of long haul freight in the years ahead, and for their expanding role in handling increased passenger traffic in areas of heavy population.

The Australian Government has taken a further step forward in its planning for high-speed passenger rail between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane by authorising additional work on its feasibility. As this railway will eventually take air traffic out of our skies and reduce congestion at our major airports, this is good news.

AECOM has been appointed for Phase Two of the study, and will report to Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, later this year. Let me predict that our first high-speed train will run between Sydney and Newcastle Airport at Williamtown by 2020.

At the same time, the British Government has announced plans for a high-speed railway to be built connecting London to Birmingham, a journey which will take only 50 minutes. You would be lucky to travel from downtown London to Heathrow airport and get yourself through the check-in counter in that time. Further good news is that the track will be continued on to Manchester and Leeds at the earliest possible date. This indicates that the Cameron/ Clegg government is showing its mettle by making some visionary decisions.

The economic rationalists and environmentalists are, highly predictably, screaming loudly in their predictions that both projects will run at heavy losses and be scars on the landscape.

The former need to accept that the day of their original philosophies is quietly passing, and they need to readapt their strategy to the cold hard fact that, in an over-populated world dominated by poverty, you can’t insist that everything must be run at a profit, or we will descend into a state of constant revolutions. Employment and the provision of services has to be the first objective of any nation.

Sadly, economic rationalists still hold the outdated view that it’s better to keep a person on the dole than give them a job that may not generate a profit. Environmentalists should leave their cars at home as their best contribution to improving the health of the planet.

I think that most of you are aware that I am Chairman of the ATEC Rail Group, originators of the concept of an Inland Railway from south to north, and may I thank all of you who have sent me emails asking for a progress report.

I am pleased to advise that the Surat Basin Railway, of which ATEC Rail is a one third shareholder and I am Chairman, is progressing forward to achieve Financial Close during the third quarter of this year. Known as The Southern Missing Link, it is 220km in length and will link the QR tracks between Wandoan and Banana in the Surat Coal Basin.

Land acquisition has commenced. If you would like a comprehensive report, please go to the Surat Basin Railway website and also the website of ATEC Rail Group, linked to this Blog.

I am also Chairman of a company called Tenement to Terminal Ltd, which has acquired 130 hectares of land at the Port of Gladstone on which a privately-owned coal terminal will be built with a 75 million tonne capacity and opened in 2016. It will handle coal from smaller mines in the Surat, Bowen and Galilee Basins that have considerable difficulty in competing with major companies to gain capacity at coal terminals. Interest in this project is quite extraordinary.

There are wild accusations being made about the contamination of fish in Gladstone Harbour. The story broke on the ABC’s Four Corners Program, and it was highly selective and very biased — as they were previously with their program on Indonesian abattoirs.

The fact is that fish all along the Queensland coastline, not just Gladstone, are similarly inflicted, mainly because last year’s massive flooding washed thousands of fish out of the fresh water of dams into hostile sea water conditions.

While I have no doubt that the overall activities of humanity, socially and industrially, are causing contamination everywhere in Australia, I know of no coal or gas companies at Gladstone that are deliberately setting-out to destroy the environment by implementing any shortcuts in their construction programs, nor are the Queensland and Federal Governments being lax in setting strong environmental standards and carrying out their fundamental responsibilities of supervision.

Can I also report to you that Australia’s railways got a huge boost last month when Tim Fisher returned home after serving a distinguished term as Australia’s Ambassador to the Vatican? He is now free to take-up once again his lifelong passion for railways and become their premier advocate, as no-one that I know has more knowledge of Australia’s rail needs or a wider range of friends and contacts among all political leaders than Tim.